The seizure of 30 kg of gold from a diplomatic consignment at the Trivandrum International Airport has snowballed into a major political controversy in Kerala as the prime suspect of the smuggling racket, Swapna Suresh, a woman who wears many hats, happens to be close to the ruling Left Democratic Front government in the state.
Swapna Suresh, a high-profile consultant with the Kerala IT department, is reportedly on the run after her name emerged in the investigation of a gold smuggling scandal which links her with top smugglers operating from the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Speaking on the multi-crore gold smuggling scandal, Sumit Kumar, Customs Commissioner, said that various leads are being pursued by the investigators to unravel the names of those who profited from the racket.
“It’s a (gold smuggling) case which has links to other countries. We are in the process of identifying the kingpin,” Sumit Kumar, a senior IRS officer, told The Indian Telegraph without taking the name of Swapna Suresh.
Soon after Swapna Suresh’s name cropped up in the smuggling racket, state BJP chief K. Surendran alleged that IT Secretary and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s office exerted pressure for the release of Swapna.
The BJP also alleged that the Kerala IT Secretary was patronising Swapna, who’s known for her top-level connections. The IT Secretary, who also happens to be the Secretary to the Chief Minister, was a frequent visitor to Swapna’s residence.
Later, Chief Minister Vijayan’s office denied any links with Swapna. The state government also terminated Swapna from the Kerala State IT Infrastructure Ltd (KSITL). The IT Secretary, M Sivasankar, was also removed from the post of Secretary to CM.
Not content with the action, the opposition has now demanded a CBI probe into Swapna’s appointment in KSITL, despite a Crime Branch probe pending against her.
Sources in the Customs said that Swapna was born and brought up in Abu Dhabi. In 2011, she got a job in a travel agency in Thiruvananthapuram. Two years later, she joined Air India SATS but left for Abu Dhabi in 2016 when the Crime Branch initiated a probe against her in a forgery case.
Swapna then secured a job in the UAE Consulate. As Swapna is fluent in Arabic, she got in touch with Arab businessmen and led several delegations to Kerala.
Sources said that during her stint in the travel agency and later in AI SATS, Swapna got in touch with several officials at the airports and customs. She also got an insight into the delivery and handling of diplomatic consignments.
It is believed that due to her connections in Kerala as well as in the UAE, Swapna gradually got acquainted with various groups and allegedly used the system to smuggle gold through diplomatic consignments.
“It’s too early to say that for how long diplomatic baggage was being used to smuggle gold into India. We have to wait for the interrogation of the prime suspect (Swapna) before we can assess the scale of smuggling racket,” said a senior customs official.